In assessing UK schools, 2+2 has a number of different answers

The National Union of Teachers and Schools Minister Jim Knight have been having a right old barney today about the question of failing schools. Last week the Department for Children, Schools and Families published a list of the 638 schools that fail to educate more than 30% of their pupils to the basic standard of five A* to C GCSEs or higher. The NUT have laid into the list today, pointing out that some of the schools it included have been rated "good" or even "outstanding" by OFSTED. The problem is that there are so many different measures of success, and so many political and vested interests in the debate that we seem to have lost sight of what should be the priority - whether children get a good education.


The NUT don't seem to be motivated by an urge to help pupils to achieve their best, but rather to defend teachers from ever being criticised, irrespective of their actual performance.


The Government, meanwhile, are a bit caught up in a mess of their own making. One plank of the NUT's argument is that the measure used to draw up last week's list may show these schools as failing, but another Government measure - CVA (Contextual Value Added) - shows many of them as being excellent schools.


CVA was introduced by the Government back in 2002 partially to spin the educational statistics into looking better, and partially as a sop to the NUT's dogmatic insistence that actually all teachers are perfect 100% of the time. CVA takes into account the "wider context" of a school, such as income and ethncity, supposedly to make the assessment fairer. In reality, it's a gross betrayal of hundreds of thousands of children - a movable goalpost that means it's officially ok for kids from a poor background to leave school without the same standards of literacy as those who are better off.


Today's argument has laid bare the CVA farce. Under the adjusted measure schools that are blatantly failing their pupils, sending them out into life without even decent standards of literacy and numeracy in far too many cases, are classed as good or even outstanding. This is a bizarre bit of doublethink - that a school can be good irrespective of the fact that its pupils are not well educated.


By recognising the importance of the actual, real-world performance of schools, the Government are at last acknowledging that how well children are prepared for life is important - something that should never have been forgotten in the first place. The really sad thing is that whilst the Government defend a move that has only been made necessary by their own past spin sins, and the NUT go on the offensive to blindly deny that any schools are failing, the children the education system are meant to help are being sorely let down, and in far too many cases lives are being ruined when they have only just begun.

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